“Perfect Humility Dispenses with Modesty”

This quote is from C. S. Lewis, from a sermon titled “The Weight of Glory,” contained in a book by the same name. But before you dispense with modesty altogether, bear in mind that he was referring to the perfect humility that we will have in age to come.

In the sermon, Lewis described his struggle to understand the Biblical teaching about the glory of heaven. One thing that unsettled him was the idea of glory as fame. To him, to be famous meant to be “better known than other people.” This kind of “competitive passion” seemed out of place in heaven. A modest person would not seek such fame, and in Lewis’ mind, humility and modesty went together.

He came to see, however, that the fame the Bible speaks of as “glory” means being well-known by God, not by people. This kind of fame leads to glorying in the approval of God, and this is appropriate. It is right for a child to be unashamedly excited at the approval of his or her parents, and it’s also humble. As children of God, we should also expect to be visibly thrilled at the idea that God is pleased with us.

“Perfect humility dispenses with modesty,” Lewis concluded, “If God is satisfied with the work, the work may be satisfied with itself.”

Another example Lewis used was dogs. Dogs can be so excited to receive words of praise and affirmation from their masters—it makes me embarrassed for dogs sometimes. Indeed they have no modesty, but they have humility. When a dog glories in its master’s praise, it is a humble glory.

Here Lewis explains how he changed his mind about this aspect of Biblical glory:

When I began to look into this matter I was shocked to find such different Christians as Milton, Johnson, and Thomas Aquinas taking heavenly glory quite frankly in the sense of fame or good report. But not fame conferred by our fellow creatures—fame with God, approval or (I might say) “appreciation” by God. And then, when I had thought it over, I saw that this view was scriptural; nothing can eliminate from the parable the divine accolade, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” With that, a good deal of what I had been thinking all my life fell down like a house of cards. I suddenly remembered that no one can enter heaven except as a child; and nothing is so obvious in a child—not in a conceited child, but in a good child—as its great and undisguised pleasure in being praised. Not only in a child, either, but even in a dog or a horse. Apparently what I had mistaken for humility had, all these years, prevented me from understanding what is in fact the humblest, the most childlike, the most creaturely of pleasures—nay, the specific pleasure of the inferior: the pleasure of a beast before men, a child before its father, a pupil before his teacher, a creature before its Creator.